Digging again through old newspapers, I came across another very early use in print of the nickname “Tar Heels.” A little over a year ago I wrote about the appearance of the nickname in an ad in an 1864 Fayetteville paper, which was a contender for the earliest use of “Tar Heels” in print. Now we can move it back another year to 1863 thanks to a letter from a Civil War soldier to a Raleigh newspaper.
Sgt. G. W. Timberlake, a member of Company A of the 3rd Regiment of North Carolina Troops, had a letter published in the Raleigh Semi-Weekly Standard on June 2, 1863. Writing from a “Camp Near the Old U.S. Ford” in Virginia, Timberlake describes the action of the second Battle of Fredericksburg and lists casualties from the regiment. Apparently the North Carolina soldiers did a particularly good job of holding their line. Timberlake writes,
The troops from other States call us “Tar Heels.” I am proud of the name, as tar is a sticky substance, and the “Tar Heels” stuck up like a sick kitten to a hot brick, while many others from a more oily State slipped to the rear, and left the “Tar Heels” to stick it out.
It’s a great quote, and confirms the origin of the nickname in the Civil War.